Funny Story: Cars Are a Boy’s Thing

Cars are a boy’s thing. And as much as that hurts my inner feminist to say that, it’s better than the alternative of perhaps admitting I have a disability of the brain.

Complex programming, computers, science, maths – no problems.
Learning foreign languages – Comment allez-vous? Je voudrais une bier, s’il vous plait.
Cars – err… where do I refill the oil again?

Should I ever be caught out in a group of male friends sharing an animated conversation that starts with “Mate… you should’ve seen the fully sick Nissan 350Z that was hooning down the M4 yesterday.” The best they could hope for from me is slightly squitty expression, while I hurt my brain trying to imagine what one looks like.

Yet my ignorance is not from lack of trying.
I’m 25 years old and have been a driver for seven years. I’ve had dad run me over the basics of car maintenance numerous times. I’ve had boyfriends and brothers point out all manners of cars and tell me their names, makes, model and detailed specs. But nothing sticks.

I am not a bad car owner. While it requires call centre assistance from dad, I check the oil regularly and always have it serviced when it’s due.
Also – I’m not a bad driver. The dints in side of my car are not my doing.

The ‘troubles’ started with a mad drunk on a bad hair day. My mild-mannered car was waiting for me to return in a car park outside the local pub, when an enraged drunk bodily smashed through the pub’s front window and picked a fight with my car. Probably over a girl. My car got a few good shots in as well.

I think that’s when my car started hanging out with the wrong crowd, y’know, the sort of people who you find congregating in McDonald’s carparks way past midnight.

Next, it stole away in the midst of the night from our Leichhardt home with a bunch of unwashed youths, and went for joyride.
I didn’t sleep all night, tossing and turning over the horrors it might be getting up to, wondering where it was, if it was safe and warm enough. Oh runaway, come home.

A call from Manly police came the next day to say they had found it. ‘Probably in a McDonald’s carpark with a pack of cigarettes’ I thought, as I caught the bus up north to retrieve the delinquent.
I told it how very disappointed I was as I drove home, sitting amongst the finger print dust and smudged CDs. (The youths had stolen off with the player, but had decided that Jimmy Barnes was not fully sick enough, and nonchalantly ejected him onto the passenger’s seat.)
I installed a car alarm and imposed a curfew.

Not long after, we moved to a fancy suburb and I stopped worrying about my car’s errant ways as it made new friends amongst the porches and the clean-shaven 4WD’s.
I relaxed and began to sleep well at night.

And then… one morning I walked out to my car, and found it in a compromising position.
It’s screw-in petrol cap was missing. So, in fact, was the petrol door. Vanished without a rusty squeak.
After a bit of ranting and raving, I summoned my trusty sidekick – my partner and a male. My car was getting out of control. This was going to need a man’s heavy-handed tactics.
“Right you, to the wrecker!” he shouted as we bundled in and drove off.

Feeling like the parent of a ‘problem child’ on Parent’s Night, I could feel my stomach sinking.
Mechanics, auto electricians and other various car people make me nervous. I am morbidly afraid that my pathetic lack of knowledge of caring for a car will be exposed – and manipulated into a hefty bill.
Staring up at the wrecker’s gate, I noted with some relief that the sign read “AfFORDable spare parts.”

Walking inside, I mentally repeated to myself that I no longer drive a Laser, and I need to ask for a petrol door for a COMMODORE, lest I make an embarrassing slip of the tongue.
Exuding the exterior of a small woman that I hoped looked right at home in the surrounds of greasy, sweaty petrol cave, I stood, waiting for the staff to notice me.
At last I caught the attention of a mechanic wearing the standard uniform of a dirty blue singlet.
I approached with a million-watt smile and sweaty palms.
“Hi! Do you have a petrol door for a Ford Holden Commodore?” I chirped.

Gulp. Oh my God. I hope he didn’t hear me….
After a short pause and smirk, he asked “Round or square?”
I looked at my stupefied partner, who was backing away slowly. “Ah…” he said.
“It’s square” I said.
The smirking grease monkey looked at me: “Are you sure?”
“I’ll check, but I’m pretty sure it’s square,” I said, vividly recalling the endless times I’d opened it to put the petrol in.
The greasemonkey escorted us outside. In silence, we stood staring at the gaping hole. A perfect circle.

I allowed my partner to secure a new door in place before scuttling off home in shame, with our tails between our legs.
With a weary glance at my trusty sidekick, and a sigh of relief, I stepped out of the car and heaved the door shut.
Twanggg.
Half of the rear bumper hung swinging in the breeze.
“Cars are a boy’s thing,” I said to him.

Backpacking in Thailand – The Best Gear to Travel With

What is the best gear to travel with if you’re planning to backpack through Thailand (or travel on a budget)? Well, it depends of course on where you’re heading. If you go north, then pack for cool nights and mountain climbing. If you head south, then prepare for magnificent ocean adventures.

Firstly, if your plans include Chiang Mai or north then keep in mind it gets kind of chilly and you’ll need warm gear and the right kit (ie. strong walk boots) for doing some trekking or exploring. However if you’re going to hit the oceans on your Thai journey, then let’s look at what you’ll need.

OK, first up, the ever trusty waterproof ‘sea’ bag. These colorful little creatures will save your bacon in more ways than one, especially if you’re a water baby and you love to be immersed in the sea all day. With your essential belongings safely enclosed in one of these you can explore ANY remote beach and still pull out a camera to capture the fun. An essential piece of ocean travel kit.

Next up is the go-anywhere sea sandals. You know the type – they embrace your feet and let you walk on sharp rocks and swim without worrying about what’s down there. Then wear them down the street to get your Pad Thai. A good quality pair of these will last you forever and are essential for a good and safe Thailand adventure.

You’ll need a quality jacket too, for the odd storm that steals in out of nowhere. Heaps of choices available, so get something that’s lightweight and strong that’ll cope with the wear and tear of being stuffed in your backpack and used frequently. It’s Thailand, so it won’t need to be too warm. In fact, the more breathable, the better.

Well, that’s it in a nutshell. There’s other gear that’ll you want to bring but having those three pieces of kit will keep a smile on your face as you backpack through Thailand and have the adventure of your life!

When I Was a Hippie (Part 1 of 5)

It was 1980. Janet and I were hiding out (from my creditors) at Shasta Abbey, a monastery in northern California, where we had ordained as Zen postulants. Suddenly, out of the blue, I became very ill, and when the illness worsened, I handled it as I had handled everything in the past — I ran!

We bussed down to the Bay area and squeezed into a small apartment in some non-descript building in Lafayette, California. Janet went to work at a stationery store while I tackled a job at Radio Shack, where I knew that I couldn’t stay long before someone tracked me down. We both either walked or bussed to work since driving a car was out of the question, even if we had one. The lingering sensitivity that we developed at the Abbey, which was only exacerbated by my illness, precluded any aggressive activity. And in the Bay Area, driving was an aggressive activity! In order to function in the world again, I had no choice but to desensitize my mind in some fashion, a desensitizing that had the unfortunate results of impeding any further insights from arising for the time being. I needed somewhere to cool out.

The Zen sickness wasn’t improving, and I was getting bone-tired of looking over my shoulder for bill collectors. I knew that I had to change things up, so one afternoon I found myself writing Janet another note and boarding my trusty Greyhound, this time headed to Tennessee. With only a few bucks in my pocket, I only hoped they would take me in at “The Farm,” the famous commune headed up by the original San Francisco hippie-refugee, Stephen Gaskin.

As I boarded the Greyhound, I noticed that the smell hadn’t changed — diesel fuel mixed with . . . humanity?

I finally made it to Tennessee and hitched from the bus station to walking distance of The Farm, and in the midst of a wild anticipation of the great new experiences ahead, the Zen sickness mysteriously disappeared. This was always my reactions when leaving a monastery, I seemed to take all the accumulated introspection and blow it on the world again!

A couple of miles later I was still walking and I wondered if I might have taken the wrong road — again. But then ahead I could see a rundown garage-type building in the middle of nowhere. God! This wasn’t The Farm, was it?

Oh no! A longhaired hippy was guarding it! Yep, it was The Farm all right. I had arrived at the gatehouse.

While mentally kicking myself for not doing my homework before spending my last few dollars on a bus ticket, the skinny gatekeeper invited me in. With strict instructions not to go beyond the gatehouse, I remained there for the better part of a week sleeping in a loft with people from all over the world, and being interviewed by a constant stream of hippies asking unusual questions.

The Farm, I was to discover, was chock full of women and kids, thus, newcomers were screened vigilantly. I must have answered all the questions more or less correctly because one morning I was escorted to the main compound about a half-mile from the gatehouse, and from there on to a small three-bedroom house with an attic loft, located a little further — my new home which I would share with 6 men, 10 women, and 11 kids.

About fifteen hundred folks had settled on the two thousand acres that made up The Farm — thirteen hundred women and children and about two hundred men (who worked their tails off to support the women and kids. Some things never change!) The Farm routinely put out the word to young women all over the country that if you have a kid and no old man, you are welcome on The Farm! I reminded myself again to do my homework before traveling cross-country!

The soy dairy (my first assignment), the bakery, and the kitchen fed the whole community, and were the centers of activity. At the dairy, we would soak hundreds of pounds of soybeans every night in gigantic stainless steel tubs, to process them the next day into tofu, tempeh, miso, soymilk, and soy ice cream that the Farm moms lined up for at the windows with their five-gallon buckets

After a short career at the dairy, I helped the farming crew hand plant fifteen acres of tomato plants, then landed a job on the masonry crew that trucked every day to the Nashville area, sixty miles to the north, to build solar houses.

The Farm was extremely active with cottage industries; home building, tie dyed T-shirts, professional bands that toured the country, nuke busters (small, hand-held devices to detect radiation from clandestine government trucks illegally transporting nuclear materials), and other ingenious entrepreneurial endeavors such as a vegetarian restaurant in Nashville. These all helped support the commune, bringing in about a dollar a day per person which we lived on by eating lots of soybeans, baking our own bread, growing many of our own vegetables, and most of all hoping that some of the folk’s parents would kick in some money — or at least some peanut butter and Hershey bars.

The Zen sickness never returned, at least as long as I was at the Farm. I didn’t know at the time how the spiritual world worked, and that this was only a brief respite from past karma that would eventually have to be faced . . . big time. So I had the privilege of becoming acquainted with many kind folks, each spiritual in their own special way, from my skinny, scarred friend who lost his scalp when he tangled his long hair in a potato-picking machine, to the women friends I had scattered here and there all over the commune.

We had doctors and attorneys, a few dentists — and lots of love. Everybody took a vow of poverty when entering the commune, giving up all of their worldly possessions (easy for me to do), so everybody was in the same boat, and all seemingly in the same house — mine! The married folks and their kids slept in the three bedrooms downstairs while the single people slept in the loft (where one would never know with whom they would end up, and in whose sleeping bag)!